Queen of the Recount

Carol Roberts may not beat Clay Shaw, but don't count her out

Roberts aimed for that effect when she spoke to GayLauderdale. "I don't need to tell this group that Clay Shaw is out of touch with this district," she told the luncheon attendees. "That's why he lobbied the state legislature to have Wilton Manors, the heart of South Florida's gay community, removed from the 22nd District."

GayLauderdale doesn't endorse political candidates, but spokesman Milton Lamonte says Shaw has done nothing to help the gay community. "He's not here, and he's never been here," Lamonte says, adding that the legislature's excising of Wilton Manors from the district was a cynical move that may galvanize the gay community behind Roberts. "I don't think [Shaw] realizes how large the gay community is outside of Wilton Manors."

Colby Katz
Congressional candidate Carol Roberts shops for art and stumps for votes at the Las Olas Labor Day Art Fair in Fort Lauderdale
Colby Katz
Congressional candidate Carol Roberts shops for art and stumps for votes at the Las Olas Labor Day Art Fair in Fort Lauderdale

Carol Antonia Klein was born in Coral Gables in 1936 to Lithuanian and Hungarian Jewish immigrants. She married Hyman Roberts at age 17 in the summer of 1953, just months after graduating from high school. The couple moved to Boston, where Hyman had established a medical practice. In 1955, they returned to South Florida, to West Palm Beach. Roberts says she and Hyman always wanted to have a family of six children. They did. And a very successful bunch they are. Among David, Jonathan, Mark, Stephen, Scott, Pamela, there are two doctors, a dentist, a rabbi, a businessman, and an accountant.

When her children were young, Roberts threw herself into volunteer work. She also attended college but never earned her degree. She did obtain her real-estate license. In 1978, she founded a public relations firm. And from 1978 to 1983, she hosted a talk show, R.S.V.P., on WPBR-AM (1340). If a guest didn't show, Roberts says, she would sometimes interview her children on what it was like to be a teenager.

It's 6:45 a.m. on February 21, 1975, at the Roberts home. Three of the couple's children bustle around the dining room. Carol and Hyman sit at a dining-room table that seats eight. He sips coffee. Carol reads the Palm Beach Post.

"You all right?" he says to her, noticing a strange expression on his wife's face.

"Sure," Carol says.

"You somehow don't look right."

"Believe me, I'm fine."

"Maybe you're coming down with something."

A few seconds of silence pass.

"That's awful," Carol says wincing.

"What's awful?"

"Do you realize there probably won't be an election in West Palm Beach?"

In his 1985 play, My Wife, the Politician, which was also published as a book by the same name, Hyman Roberts describes how his wife decided to run for the West Palm Beach City Commission.

That election year, West Palm Beach was either the happiest city in Palm Beach County or the most apathetic. It seemed two commissioners would automatically return to office because no one had filed to oppose them.

Just before 5 p.m. on the last day to qualify, with her two youngest children in tow, Roberts filed to run for the at-large commission seat held by incumbent Jim Adams. "If I didn't know anything about him, I figured no one else did either," she says. She listed her occupation as housewife.

At city hall, 13-year-old son Scott quizzed a television news crew that had aimed its camera on a clock, ready to report that no one had filed for the commission seats. Instead, at Scott's behest, the camera crew aired an interview with Roberts.

When Roberts arrived back home that night, her lawn was awash with television news trucks and print reporters, and her political career had been launched. She had only three weeks to campaign for the office. She criticized several commissioners who voted to deposit city money in a bank in which they owned stock. She also urged the city to change from at-large elections to single-member districts to make it more likely that a black commissioner would be elected. On March 25, 1975, Roberts beat Adams.

She made history. She was West Palm Beach's first female commissioner.

"Where do you go from here, Mrs. Roberts?" a reporter asks her on election night in My Wife, the Politician.

"I'll do my best to justify this confidence by the citizens who voted for me."

"What will be first?"

"Suppose I'll have to get a business card to prove I'm really a commissioner."

My Wife, the Politician was read at the Actors Repertory Theater in West Palm Beach in November 1986. It is one of several works authored by Hyman. He has also written on the dangers of the sweetener Aspartame, on conclusions one can draw about wealth and health by studying ailments of rich Palm Beachers, a history of West Palm Beach, and his personal recollections of a visit by Princess Diana and Prince Charles to the region. All have been published by the couple's vanity publishing company, the Sunshine Sentinel Press. He was not available for an interview and makes only rare appearances on the campaign trail.

For most of a quarter century after her first election, Roberts was an elected official in Palm Beach County. Roberts believes her history in Palm Beach County gives her an edge over Shaw. She was elected to the City Commission four times. She served two terms as mayor and four times as vice mayor. In 1986, she was elected to the Palm Beach County Commission. And for the next 16 years, voters repeatedly returned her to office.

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